On the main level, the Onion Pub and Brewery in Lake Barrington has the feel of a traditional English Pub, with giant timbers dating back 250 years overhead in the bar and dining rooms and a burning fireplace warming guests enjoying beers brewed on-site.
But there are few clues to the scale of the brewing operation going on down below and the plans this 15-year-old, family-owned business has to expand its brewing business. So we recently took a tour with Brewmaster and owner, Mike Kainz, to find out what’s in the works.
Mike grew up in Tower Lakes and graduated from Barrington High School in 1983. He started brewing beer while serving in the Peace Corps in North Africa in his early twenties, where he worked to grow food to feed orphans in Morocco…
“I loved North Africa, but I was in a Muslim country and they didn’t have much beer. So I learned kind of a rough version of home brewing over there to provide myself with something cold and fermented to drink. When I cam back in 1988, the craft beer movement was just starting to take hold in the Midwest.
So Mike Kainz talked his parents into letting him convert their Tower Lakes garage into a pilot brewery. “They parked their cars outside for a whole year and we just brewed and brewed and brewed over and over again on a small-scale to kind of perfect our original recipe.” The original recipe was their Paddy Pale Ale, their “flagship brand” and top seller today.
The Paddy Pale Ale also happens to be Mike’s favorite of the many beers he’s created over the years. “It’s an American Pale Ale and has been our number one beer forever. You’ll taste the blend of malt, but it’s a dry beer so it highlights the hops. With a hops beer, it’s all about the aroma and the smell of the flowers in the hops and the bite of the bitterness.”
Hearing Mike talk about beer sounds a little like you’re listening to an experienced wine sommelier, which makes sense since he moved to California after brewing beer in his parents’ garage to study the science of fermentation in Sonoma and Napa Counties. He later came home to study beer at the Siebel Institute of Technology, “America’s Oldest Brewing School”, which happens to be in Chicago.
You’ll find about 25 of Mike’s beers on tap at The Onion Pub, brewed below the bar with a 20 Hectoliter system set up in the basement. “Over the course of this year, we’ll produce right around 2,000 barrels of beer. If you make that equivalent to kegs, it would be about 4,000 kegs.” And at 31 gallons per barrel, that’s 62,000 gallons of beer each year, brewed right here in Lake Barrington! And it’s a quantity they plan to more-than double in the coming years.
“Even though we’ve been at this for a while, we’re just kind of coming out of the gate. We’re really expanding the canning and distribution of our product throughout Chicagoland and Wisconsin, so we’re looking to grow every year.”
“We’d like to produce upwards of 4,500 barrels of beer maybe next year or the year after that. Beyond that point, we’d have to look at moving to a larger building or adding onto this existing building.”
To meet the growing demand for Wild Onion beers, the Kainz family set up a canning operation downstairs two-and-a-half years ago. “Cans are sort of the next wave of packaged beer because it doesn’t get hit by light and there’s less oxygen.”
“We do roughly about 30 cans a minute which translates to 60 cases an hour, so we can do about 250 cases a day and, right now, we’re canning about 300 to 400 cases a week. It sounds like a lot and yet that’s just scratching the surface because, right now, we’re only running the canning system once or twice a week.”
Today, they’re primarily distributing to liquor stores and retailers in Illinois and Wisconsin, but they have big plans for their canning operation. “Ideally, we’d like to be in at least 13 to 15 states throughout the Midwest. We’re looking to get into Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri and then move our way East. We’re just getting into Ohio now, too, so the business is just kind of mushrooming.”
Yet, as the business expands, the Wild Onion Brewery is stepping up efforts to serve clients right here in Barrington. And Mike Kainz says that’s an important part of their overall growth strategy.
“Typically a microbrewery succeeds based on it’s local market and expanding out, organically, from its base.”
You’ll now find their beers served on tap at the new Heinen’s Fine Foods grocery store.
And The Paddy Pale Ale is one of six Wild Onion Beers you’ll now find on tap at Wool Street Grill & Sports Bar, another popular Barrington bar & restaurant. Wool Street owner, Mark Green, recently asked the Kainz family if he could carry, not one, but SIX different Wild Onion beers on tap, to help promote this successful and growing Barrington beer business and support the concept of “drinking local”.
Mike Kainz says this Wool Street endorsement is a strong show of support and a really big deal for their family business. “As a brewery, one draft handle is worth its weight in gold in this industry. It’s a very unique thing for us that the bar owner comes up to us and wants to put this many of our beers on tap. It’s huge.”
Mike’s brother, John Kainz, who heads up the marketing and beer distribution part of the business, says we’ll find some of the Onion’s most popular brews on tap at Wool Street, along with some of their more unique offerings. “People want more flavor and they want it local, so we’ll give them funky, crazy beers that nobody else gets that’ll only be on tap here at Wool Street.”
And they’ll be serving up a little beer background with special tasting nights happening on the last Wednesday of each month at Wool Street, called Craft Corner Wednesdays, where you can taste and talk about the beers with the Kainz brothers themselves.
The next Craft Corner Wednesday event starts at 7 p.m. this week on Wednesday, November 7th, at Wool Street Grill and Sports Bar, 128 Wool Street, in Barrington. (They pushed the tasting back a week because the last Wednesday of October overlapped with Halloween.) There is no admission fee.
And we’re excited to introduce Lake Barrington’s Onion Pub & Brewery as the latest members to join the Barrington Online Marketplace here at 365Barrington.com.
CLICK HERE to learn more about the Onion Pub & Brewery’s beers, mug club, dining and banquet services in the special feature we just published with an overview of the Kainz family business at 22221 N. Pepper Road in Lake Barrington or visit their website at OnionBrewery.com.
In case you’re new to our site, here’s a quick look at how the Marketplace works…
At the beginning of each workweek, we introduce you to the latest local businesses & organizations that join our Barrington Online Marketplace by featuring them here at 365Barrington.com and via our weekly email newsletter. If you’d like to receive those emails, which will also include information about upcoming events in Barrington, we promise we’ll prove worthy of your email inbox. Just enter your email here and click “Submit”.
You’ll find the new community resource at 365Barrington.com/Marketplace. To have your business, organization, home or event featured, visit 365Barrington.com/Advertise for more information or call Liz at 847-691-3150.
In the meantime, save me a seat at the bar. I’ll see you at Craft Corner Wednesdays!
* CLICK HERE for Onion Pub & Brewery Exterior Flickr Photo Source